LONDON - Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has been recorded saying wrongdoing by his British newspapers was "next to nothing" and apparently acknowledging that his reporters paid police officers for information.
Staffers at two of Murdoch's British tabloids have been charged as part of police investigations into phone hacking and bribery spurred by revelations two years ago that his News of the World routinely eavesdropped on the mobile phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians, royals and crime victims.
In a tape published in transcript by the ExaroNews journalism website and broadcast Wednesday on Channel 4 News, Murdoch appeared to downplay the seriousness of the scandal and the police investigation.
Murdoch is heard saying, "it's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing." "It's a disgrace. Here we are, two years later, and the cops are totally incompetent," said Murdoch, who is executive chairman of News Corp.
The outlets said the tape of Murdoch was recorded during a meeting with journalists at The Sun newspaper in March. Murdoch told the journalists: "We're talking about payments for news tips from cops: that's been going on a hundred years." News Corp. denied Murdoch had known bribery was taking place before the police launched an investigation. The company said "Mr. Murdoch never knew of payments made by Sun staff to police" before News Corp. executives disclosed the company's misdeeds to British authorities.
Staff at the Sun and former staff of the News of the World, which Murdoch shut down after the hacking scandal erupted in 2011, face trial, along with a number of police officers, prison guards and other officials accused of accepting bribes.
The charges came after police trawled through a vast trove of News Corp. emails handed over by the company as evidence of wrongdoing.
In the recording, Murdoch said it had been "a mistake" on News Corp.'s part to hand over so many of its files to police. He said the company was now insisting police obtain court orders before they could see documents.
Murdoch told staff who have been charged that he would stand by them.
"I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you're convicted and get six months or whatever," he said.
Murdoch has publicly apologized for phone hacking, which he has called "appalling," and News Corp. has paid out millions to settle lawsuits from scores of victims.
News Corp. said in a statement Thursday that it had cooperated fully with police and worked hard to "identify what went wrong, compensate the victims, and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again." Responding to the tape recording, the company said Murdoch "has shown understandable empathy with the staff and families affected and will assume they are innocent until and unless proven guilty."